After having enjoyed Cartagena and hiking in El Cocuy National Park so much, the rest of Colombia had big shoes to fill. We made our way over to Medellin from the eastern side of the country and rented a small apartment in the city to catch up on blogging, work and some Pedro maintenance. The first day we were there it turned out to be a holiday, although no one could tell us what it was for. This would have been awesome info to know ahead of time but of course Eric went on a wild goose chase for a reputable person to work on the car. Instead he ended up in a shady neighborhood with hundreds of men working on cars in the middle of the street while all the gated workshops were closed, of course. As he tried to leave the place he had deemed unsafe for Pedro to stay he got pulled over by a cop banging on the side of the camper and running alongside the car. The cop then explained that he was giving Eric a ticket and told him that he was a terrible driver. Eric asked why the volunteer traffic cop had waved him through if it was illegal and the cop answered that the volunteer cop was not the one in charge, he was. As confusing as that was Eric said fine, give me the ticket and proceeded to write down his passport number as the zip code of Durango, CO. This whole situation had drawn a large crowd of the street side mechanics covered in oil and dirt. One even offered to beat up the cop if Eric gave him some money. Helpful locals, indeed. All in all, the ticket is still in our possession as a testament to the legal system of Latin America, no payment necessary.
Other than the ticket snafu Medellin was just so-so. We enjoyed the city but we had high hopes that went unfulfilled. We went to the Museo De Antioquia for a day, and loved the large collection by Fernando Botero. We found a small street with great restaurants near the Miami feeling Zona Rosa. We walked into one beautiful restaurant with the intention to split something as a treat after our chicken skewers we had just inhaled street side. We sat near the door and were told to wait for a table. In about 1 minute Eric said we have to get out of here and rushed me outside. Once we were seated and enjoying wine and pizza across the street, he explained that he had witnessed the most elaborate dessert presentation ever of a chocolate mousse cake and that our “treat” of a dinner would have been be more than our three night’s stay. On our last evening in Medellin we attended a soccer game and had enough red in our wardrobe to sit on the home side. Luckily Medellin won and the local crowd was pumped. Overall the city was fun and enjoyable but not so much the brimming with character or out of the ordinary place we had somehow expected.
From Medellin we headed south to the coffee region and had a great stay at Hacienda Guayabal. The host Jorge was very welcoming although seemed surprised so many people were coming to camp. We ended up next to two Swiss couples, both on the road for around a year so far and driving north. The following morning we took a tour of the coffee farm with a German couple visiting Colombia for a few weeks. Our guide had only been working there for one week so we can’t guarantee the validity of all that we heard, but it was a beautiful morning walking through the plants, and learning about the process in detail. Eric turned out to be better at picking the beans. One of the most impressive parts was how steep the hillsides were that the beans were picked on and the weak, new plants that the workers would have to rely on for foot support. We ended the tour with Jorge providing tasters of the coffee and a snack of delicious guava and chocolate ice cream sundays. The rest of the afternoon we relaxed on the property, welcomed our new neighbors, http://alaskawilds.me/, who are driving their camper south from Alaska and picked the brains of the Swiss travelers for recommendations as we head further south.
The next morning we drove to the nearby town of Salento and the famous Valle de Cocora. The drive was beautiful through the countryside and the weather was cool and cloudy. The area is famous for the Quindío wax palm, the tallest palm trees in the world. We didn’t have time to hike that day, so we snapped a few photos and made our way back to the highway. The trees were impressive but I’d rather look at the redwoods any day. From here we spent two very comfortable hotel days in Cali, which was a gift from my parents and it was a perfect little breather.
As we made our way quickly to the border we were amazed by how the scenery changed. After advice from the Swiss couple and with Moab and Zion so close to us, we decided to skip the Tatacoa Desert and stay on the main highway. The canyon that we ended up driving through to get to our last stop in Chachagui was incredible. We stayed in the quiet Hostel Kundur, run by a friendly Brazilian man, and rested before our first border crossing in South America! Our one last stop before the border was the beautiful gothic style Santuario de Las Lajas, a cathedral built in an area where an appearance of the Virgin Mary was claimed to have been seen and a miracle occurred. Now many people visit this place as a sort of pilgrimage. The church is deep in the valley and was an impressive sight in the middle of the small towns and farmed hillsides.
Overall we absolutely loved Colombia. It is a place we would like to return to one day, and would 100% encourage others to travel to this country for its beauty and its people. Now on to Ecuador!